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#ChamberBreakers: Healthcare’s sexism problem

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Healthcare systems around the world vary in terms of their structure, coverage, and quality, but one thing that is consistent across the board is that women are woefully under-represented in healthcare leadership. Whether as carers or patients, their needs and perspectives are being overlooked, with worrying consequences.

For its third season, the #ChamberBreakers podcast series is unpacking capitalism to see what needs fixing, and what we can do as businesses to pave a more equitable future for all.

In this episode, Lianna Brinded, director at Yahoo and Xavier White, CSR and innovation marketing manager for Verizon Business, talk to Dr Roopa Dhatt, executive director and co-founder of Women in Global Health, the world’s largest advocacy network for gender equity in health.

“We know that 70% of the health and care workers are women and their interests and welfare are critical to strong health systems, but they only hold 25% of senior decision-making roles,” Dhatt says. "Women’s perspectives are being sidelined, resulting in gender-blind policies."

During the pandemic, a study found that 85% of around 150 COVID task forces were male-led. This gender-bias manifested itself in the design of crucial personal protective equipment (PPE).

“We've heard from women all around the world that they've had oversized gowns, gloves not fitting, face masks ill-fitting,” Dhatt says.

Read more: #ChamberBreakers: How gendered economy sets women up to fail

Gender transformative action in the healthcare sector is essential if we are to tackle these problems at the source. “When you have diverse teams, you're going to have greater innovation, more sustainable solutions, and more ethical decision-making,” she says.

It requires going beyond representation and gender parity and really looking at whether we are addressing the root drivers of gender inequities. Transformative action can be integrated into everything: Leadership, more equitable power distribution, family-friendly policies, creating wage transparency, and equal career-advancement opportunities for women.

Looking at it through a capitalist lens, Dhatt says governments need to grasp that health — and universal coverage — is not just an investment into individuals, but an investment into national well-being and the economy.

“It’s not a private sector business opportunity,” she says. “That's difficult to imagine since the health sector is one of the fastest growing sectors and is a sector that leads to economic growth for many countries.”

In terms of what capitalism can do to improve things, Dhatt encourages corporations to use their power to examine their investments, look into working environments, and encourage a corporate culture that prioritises physical and mental health.

The health sector suffers from one of the highest pay gaps — around 28% compared to 20% in other sectors — so companies must examine and address their pay inequality. 

Read more: #ChamberBreakers: The truth behind CSR in an evolving world

The sector also suffers disproportionately from violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, so companies have work to do there — and businesses will ultimately benefit as fewer women will leave their jobs because of harassment.

The COVID-19 pandemic is deepening gender inequality, and we risk undoing progress that has been made in the last decade if company leaders don’t keep striving.

“Currently estimates are that it's going to take us at least 100 years to achieve gender equality,” Dhatt says. “Let's work together and accelerate and leapfrog — that's something that I know the private sector world is really well-known to do.”

The six-part video series is also a podcast and is out every Monday. Next week’s episode features Dr Ayanna Howard, dean of the College of Engineering at Ohio State University.

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